Newsweek magazine's long-running financial columnist Jane Bryant Quinn has been a fan of Thoroughbred racing for some time. The author of the new book "Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People," Quinn shared her thoughts on handicapping, the Kentucky Derby, and Secretariat's 31-length Belmont Stakes victory recently with Evan Hammonds of The Blood-Horse.
What sparked your interest in horse racing?
My late husband, David Quinn, loved the track, and I loved the opera. When we started dating, I took him to Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera and he took me to Aqueduct. He fell for the singing, I fell for the horses and handicapping, and we fell for each other.
Why do you love Thoroughbred racing?
I love the thrill of the race itself. There's nothing like watching your horse on the backstretch, believing it's just where you thought it should be, and then shouting it home. I love the colors and smells. And I'm fascinated by handicapping--especially when I nail the winner.
What is your favorite racetrack (and why)?
Aqueduct, because it's the first track I ever went to. We'd stop for a hot dog, strategize the parking, and head for the clubhouse. In his track persona, my husband, a lawyer, hung out with some Runyonesque characters who were there every day, cracking jokes, trading tips, losing more than winning, and--as best I can tell--living off patient women. It was another world, now gone. My track friends are more upscale now, but not as funny.
Other tracks? Saratoga is a summer treat for those of us in the Northeast. Keeneland is lovely--it was interesting to have to make judgments during the race, before the PA system went in...don't get me wrong, if I were a regular, I'd definitely be pro-PA. Belmont is corporate, smooth, and -- like any track, I guess -- a great place to give a birthday party in July.
Have you ever been to the Kentucky Derby?
How was the experience?
Frustrating, the first time. I'd handicapped the card, but our hosts took us from party to party and julep to julep. All they cared about was showing up for the Derby, and I missed two good winners in earlier races! The second time, we did the after-parties but spent the whole afternoon at the track. Loved the singing and the roses, and, yes, I bought a hat.
How about the Preakness or Belmont?
The Preakness once and the Belmont three times. My biggest Triple-Crown thrill was watching Secretariat win the Belmont by 31 lengths. As he pulled away, the other horses just seemed to stop.
Secretariat first appeared in my world as a 2-year-old in a Saratoga stakes race. I bet against him. As I watched him eat up the track, I swore never to make that mistake again. No need to handicap, just put your money down.
What was the largest score you ever made at the races?
Nothing big in dollars--maybe $25 on a $2 bet --on that one, I shudda bet the house. I don't make big bets and don't go to the track to score. I go for the handicapping and the mental and aesthetic pleasure of each race itself. Where else do gorgeous animals--great athletes--give you instant feedback on how smart you are that day? It's a kick to pick the right horse for the right reasons--especially a horse with longer odds. I go nuts when they come in.
Over the years, I've been to racetracks in many different countries. No matter how much information you get about the horses, I roughly break even if I bet every race, maidens included. The exception was the track just outside of Dublin, now closed. I won all but one race just by betting on a trainer who couldn't lose that day. His horses weren't even going off as favorites every time. I upped my usual tiny bets to $10.
I also did well in Trinidad. The tote board started out with the odds created by money bet "downtown," before the windows opened at the track. That day, at least, the downtown money always knew.
Then there's the Cairo track. We couldn't find the odds for the races on the board and asked our neighbor where they were. "Oh," he said, "they post them at the end of the race!" Neat trick. The second neat trick was that the tellers wouldn't cash a winning ticket unless you tipped.
What did you do with the profits?
Bet them again, what else?
What are better investments--win, place, or show bets or the exotics (exacta, trifectas)?
I don't do the exotics or play around with seconds or thirds. I'm a recreational track-goer, out for the handicapping, watching the jockeys strategize as they run, and the kick of seeing my horse's nose first under the wire. So I keep things simple and bet to win.